5/31/2012

Food Aid Taking Too Long to Reach Needy

By Soumaila T. DiarraIps Africa

Her neat, bright yellow headscarf matches the rest of her outfit, but contrasts with her weary expression. Sokona Soumounou sits a little apart from the crowd queueing for assistance from the World Food Programme in the southern Mali town of Ségou.
“I’m staying with my younger brother here, with four children whose parents are elsewhere,” she told IPS.
This week was the first time there was assistance of any kind for Soumounou or any of the roughly 3,600 people who have fled conflict in the north of the country to find refuge in Ségou.
“Our situation is not easy, with no one helping us,” 31-year-old Soumounou said. “I need to find accommodation, but the cost of housing has skyrocketed.”
Bakary Diarra, a teacher from Andéraboukane, in the north, says he has lost everything. “I came to Ségou without a penny. The rebels carried off all of our possessions, even my cellphone and my wife’s clothing,” he told IPS.
Tuareg rebels launched an uprising in northern Mali in January which the government struggled to contain. Malian president Amadou Toumani Touré was toppled by a coup on Mar. 22, and in the period of uncertainty immediately following, the Tuareg rebels, alongside various Islamist groups, took complete control of the northern part of the country.
“There are many teachers in financial difficulty now, after fleeing rebel-controlled areas. We’re not getting our salaries regularly, at least not the people I know, who’ve fled the (northern) Gao region,” he said.
Several initiatives to support internally displaced people from the north have now been implemented.
On May 20, the World Food Programme launched an operation to distribute basic foodstuffs in this region of the country. In Ségou, WFP distributed 18 tonnes of supplies to families who have taken in IDPs.
“We have given them millet, oil and peas,” said Soro Mawa, who is directing WFP operations in the city. “We will continue to help displaced persons so that they can support themselves by means of other programmes like a work for food programme.”
But the challenges extend far beyond the Ségou region, says local journalist Ibrahim Klepy. “Many of those displaced by the conflict have found shelter in other parts of the south,” he told IPS.
“We know there are many IDPs living with their parents or other people they know in Ségou and other cities – many in places where there are no reception centres.”
According to medical charity Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), nearly 320,000 people have fled the conflict in the north since January, with 160,000 now in refugee camps in neighbouring Burkina Faso, Niger and Mauritania.
The slow pace of mobilising and delivering aid has provoked criticism.
“MSF calls on the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the World Food Programme to increase and speed up the distribution of aid in Burkina Faso, Mauritania, and Niger before the rainy season makes aid distribution even more difficult,” said MSF operations director Malik Allaouna in a statement on the charity’s website.
In Mali, aid workers say a humanitarian corridor is needed to speed up delivery of assistance to the north. “The armed groups need to accept the delivery of aid through a secure corridor so we can reach these people,” said WFP’s Mawa.
There has been some success on this front in recent weeks, as United Nations humanitarian agencies and Malian civil society organisations collect donations for people displaced by the conflict.
“The High Islamic Council has negotiated with the armed groups to allow the dispatch of a first convoy (on May 12) to the regions of Kidal, Gao and Timbuktu,” Madany Niang, assistant to the mayor of Ségou, told IPS. “This aid got through to people in the north and the government is preparing a second convoy.”
Other donations and medical support have been organised by a collective set up by a group of young people, mostly with roots in northern Mali. They have named their volunteer effort “Cri de Coeur Pour le Nord” – distress call for the north.
Cri de Coeur member Al Mahdi Cissé told IPS the crisis in the north has struck an already-vulnerable population.
“Already hit by two years of food shortages, people in the north are suffering a both physical and moral trauma, facing the worst deprivation: of water, medicine, electricity, and even basic food supplies. These people are on the very edge, and every hour that passes only pushes them closer to it,” he said.
The collective’s online manifesto argues that efforts to re-establish constitutional order must be accompanied by an equally urgent humanitarian action plan for hundreds of thousands of people in distress.

5/30/2012

Filmmaker Akin Omotoso’s Africa


A recurring theme in director Akin Omotoso’s films is the fraught postapartheid relationship of Nigerian migrants and their South African hosts. Part of the reason is autobiographical. Akin is the son of Kole, the literary professor, who moved his young family, including his then teenage son, to South Africa in the early 1990s from Nigeria.
The result is that Omotoso is as much Nigerian as he is South African.
In Omotoso’s first feature film, “God is African” (2003), set in 1995, the fictional nephew of the murdered Nigerian writer and activist Ken Saro Wiwa fights inaction and opposition from fellow students at his Johannesburg university to publicize the fate of Saro Wiwa and other Ogoni activists who are about to be executed by Nigerian junta. The South African characters, despite their very recent oppressive history, show little empathy for their Nigerian counterparts. Now, twelve years later, his second feature, “Man on Ground,” covers related themes. In that first film, the violence plays out somewhere else; this time the violence plays out in Johannesburg. (The characters also share names and some of the actors return–Hakeen Kae Kazim, who started his career in “God is African” and is now a regular in Hollywood an on American network TV, stars in the new film too.)
Principally, the film revolves around two brothers, Ade and Femi. Ade (Kae Kazim), a successful lawyer based in London, travels to Johannesburg for a conference with his wife. He also arranged to meet his estranged brother, Femi (played by Fabian Adeoye Lojede). The latter is a former student activist, who, after being tortured (seemingly by the Abacha regime), fled to South Africa where he ekes out a living doing odd jobs in restaurants, sells hair extensions and works on construction sites. The brothers could not have been more different. Femi does not turn up for the meeting and soon his South African fiance, Zodwa, turns up at Ade’s hotel to report that Femi is missing. He had gone to work in a township on the edge of Johannesburg. This is the weekend of the pogroms against African migrants to South Africa–which so happens to be concentrated around said township (the film is loosely based on real events). Femi delays his departure from South Africa and with Zodwa goes in search of Ade.
What follows is a thriller of sorts. The use of music, recurring scenes of fire and matches being lit, editing cuts building anticipation (Aryan Kaganof, familiar to readers of this blog, edited the film) and flashback scenes (to the brothers’ joint childhood and the events leading up to Femi’s disappearance), add to the suspense and fills out the plot, pushing the story forward. We, of course, know the outcome. But the circumstances of and motives for Femi’s death are not so clear cut. It will all end badly.
Though the film does not explore the relationship between Ade and Zodwa–they don’t say much, apart from Zodwa repeating Femi’s accusations of a feud with Ade–it is clear that they reflect Omotoso’s longtime interest in the relationship between Nigerians and South Africans after Apartheid. Zodwa, in particular, is an interesting character and so is her relationship with Femi: from a chance encounter with Femi, they became a couple, lovers, expectant parents and engaged to be married before he disappeared. The scenes between Zodwa and Femi are tender as they whisper sweet nothings to each other or repeat the same word in Zulu and Yoruba. They also represent a different kind of future or encounter between South Africans and other Africans.
This is of course all probable. There are lots of “mixed” South African-Nigerian couples in big cities like Johannesburg and Cape Town, but there is also a way in which this is Omotoso’s wish. Most of the other South Africans Femi and later Ade encounter are xenophobes–with the exception of Zodwa, Ade’s boss (central to the film’s outcome) and, crucially, a policewoman who in a flashback (or fantasy?) scene explains Ade’s rights to him in a very friendly, personable and helpful tone. The policewoman’s attitude is striking given the reputation of the South African authorities towards migrants and refugees from African states (in contrast to white migrants) are notorious. But it also perhaps winks at Omotoso’to politics to imagine a different kind of future for intra-African relationships inside South Africa and within the African diaspora. I find Omotoso’s work refreshing for not shying away from hard questions about the new South African (and African) reality (in this case migration, xenophobia, corruption, state inaction and political opportunism), while still creating and producing work that can be entertaining, gripping and accessible.

* Man on Ground screens Saturday night at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.

Charges are baseless, Tehran says


Life terms given to Iranian nationals for alleged espionage activities
  • Habib Toumi, Bureau chief

Manama Tehran has rejected a Kuwaiti court verdict of life terms for Iranian nationals for alleged espionage activities, saying that the prison sentences were “surprising” and “totally unacceptable”.
“Recently some baseless claims have been made which are surprising and we consider them as unacceptable,” Ramin Mehmanparast, the foreign ministry spokesman, said.
“Such verdicts are not acceptable by any means and the fact that this issue had already been dismissed by Kuwaiti officials, but is being raised again surprises us,” he said at a ministry briefing.
Mehmanparast said Kuwait did not give Iran consular access to the Iranians.
“We hope that Kuwait will review its approach and we witness the release of our country’s nationals,” he said, quoted by the Mehr news agency.
In Kuwait City, Shaikh Sabah Al Khalid, the foreign minister, said the ministry was waiting for the details of the ruling to decide on the “procedures normally followed in such cases.”
 
Vehemently denied
On Monday, Kuwait’s Court of Appeals, looking into the trial of the seven defendants, commuted the death
sentence of two Iranians and a Kuwaiti national who worked for the Kuwaiti army at the time of their arrest. It also upheld a life sentence against a stateless man, confirmed the acquittal of two other Iranians, a man and a woman, and acquitted a Syrian who had been sentenced by a lower court to life in prison.
The alleged seven-member cell was busted in May 2010, but Iran has vehemently denied any role and insisted that its nationals were innocent and should be released.
The case strained relations between Kuwait and Iran, prompting both capitals to expel diplomats. However, the ambassadors returned to their posts shortly after a visit by Ali Akbar Salehi, Iran’s foreign minister, to Kuwait City.

Court to issue verdict on Kuwaiti blogger on June 4

GULFNEWS

Al Naqi was also charged with posting remarks that denigrated Islam as a religion
  • By Habib Toumi, Bureau Chief
 
Manama: A Kuwait blogger on trial for allegedly abusing Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) will know his fate on June 4, a court ruled on Monday.
According to the case papers, Hamad Al Naqi, between February 5 and March 27, posted comments and tweets that insulted Prophet Mohammad, his companions Abu Baker, the first Caliph, and Othman, the second caliph, and his wife Aysha. The abuses were likely to stoke sedition within the community and mobilise segments alongside sectarian lines, the prosecutor said.
The tweets, on two different accounts, denigrated and insulted the political regimes in two Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries and could undermine Kuwait's national interests, the court heard, Al Aan news site reported.
Al Naqi was also charged with posting remarks that denigrated Islam as a religion, ridiculed its beliefs and teachings and scorned its iconic figures.
The 26-year-old defendant who was also accused of using his mobile to post abusive remarks, had pleaded not guilty to the charges and that his account had been hacked.
Al Naqi was arrested in March and his case deeply divided the nation's views on the use of social networks.
Several lawmakers have called for his death for insulting God and His prophet while others defended him as someone who expressed his views freely.
Although sectarian tension is not deep in Kuwait, several cases have recently resulted in standoffs between the two main sects.
The parliament, dominated by Islamist and tribal representatives, has passed a draft law that stipulates the death penalty for anyone found guilty of insulting God, Prophet Mohammad or his companions or relatives.

Zimbabwe: nation needs a comic hero

 
Every country has its own heroes. Zimbabwe even has a special shrine where they are buried. In Western cultures, some of the heroes are not real people, but mythical personalities created by artists to illustrate how good will always triumph over evil.
Most modern-day heroes came out of comic books whose origins can be traced back to as early as 1827 when Rudolph Topffer developed a long-running strip cartoon called “The Adventures of Obadiah Oldbuck”.
The 40-page comic strip was republished in the United States five years later and the form of art spread across the country, resulting in the creation of “The Yellow Kid” by Richard Outcault in 1895.
Some historians consider “The Yellow Kid” as the first comic strip because it was the first to use speech bubbles within a composition instead of the captions-below-the-drawing style that came before it, but whatever the case the history of comics dates back to the 1800s.
Though the word “comic” would suggest that they are meant to be funny, few comic books or strips are created for comic relief.  Rather, comics normally tell a story using a dominant “hero” or main character as he/she solves a problem affecting a vulnerable society.  Because the powers of the main character are used for good, the moral value of a comic book cannot be underestimated.
The stories of Zimbabwe’s heroes and heroines are always either written in books or recreated as movies and there is in most instances influences from outsiders who hardly understand the cultures and way of life of Zimbabweans.
The country’s liberation struggle is sometimes negatively portrayed in books and movies as acts by of rape, torture and several other atrocities by the very same people that eventually freed Zimbabweans from bondage.
But when speaking to any Zimbabwean war veteran, one would hear interesting stories of courage, commitment and sacrifice.
Others have mythical stories to tell, most about how God or the country’s traditional spirits aided the nationalists to topple a colonial regime.
Those are the kind of stories that comic books are made of, yet no Zimbabwean artists have dared to recreate some of them. The hesitation is quite understandable, though.
Zimbabwe has very few professional cartoonists. There are less than 10 known professional cartoonists and most of them are full-time employees at various media houses and that is a problem. Most would get a standard salary and nothing more should their output increase.
That perhaps would explain why most of Zimbabwe’s strip cartoons, notably “Chikwama” and “Nyati” have disappeared from the mainstream media. In these trying times, cartoonists would use the spare time to work on other “income-generating projects”.
The comic book idea would certainly not be the most attractive for two reasons. It is uncharted territory and its impact on Zimbabweans is largely unknown.
Secondly, comics are very time-consuming because every frame is well detailed with action-packed movements in the foreground and well defined backgrounds behind them. One would have to be sure of the returns before investing loads of time in the venture.
But the Zimbabwean story still needs to be illustrated, particularly now that there is lots of interest in whatever is happening in the country and just as much unverifiable information on the web.
Comics have an advantage over data presentations because they employ both text and images and the combination is so powerful that they have the ability to capture the imagination of a reader more than anything else.
Marvel and DC comics creations such as Spiderman, Batman, X-men and Superman have created such vivid memories for their readers that motion pictures have been made, and some of them have been well received locally.
A lot of children can be seen walking around donning Spiderman t-shirts. It is possible that locally generated characters can attract the same appeal. The problem is that no one has presented the public with a comic hero that they identify with.
Recently, Jamaican musician Ziggy Marley collaborated with one artist to bring to life “Marijuanaman” — a Caribbean superhero that fights crime and educates the youths about the importance of education and self-reliance.
Spiderman would never do the same, because he was created in a Western culture that has different ethos and relates much less to ways of in third world countries.
It is not just the United States that has the comic culture. French comics, referred to as BDs as an abbreviation to “bande dessinees”, literary translating to “the drawn strips” have a long and rich history.
In Europe, Dutch, English, Belgian and Italian comics have proved to be popular. Japanese equivalent to American comics, called “Manga”, are more culturally inclined to the Asian country’s way of life and consequently get more respect both as an art form and a part of the popular culture.  A good number of “Manga” comics get adapted into television shows, movies or series, underlying their importance as cultural artifacts.

Comics in any country are seen as drivers of cultural messages that may be used to both educate and entertain.  They show the youth that if evil exists, there will always be an opposing force standing for the good that would always win. Recent media reports show how many youths have resorted to illegal activities, including murder to resolve differences.

A Zimbabwean comic hero would give them someone to look up to.
By Knowledge MushoweThe Herald (Zimbabwe)

Flame: Massive cyber-attack discovered, researchers say




Bahrain’s Zainab al-Khawaja released on bail


 
Bahrain’s Zainab al-Khawaja released on bail(Ahlul Bayt News Agency) - Bahraini activist Zainab al-Khawaja has been released on bail one month after she was arrested for trying to organize an anti-regime protest.

"We paid the bail today and she has already spent the month in jail, so she was freed," her lawyer Mohammed al-Jishi told Reuters on Tuesday.

On April 21, Zainab was arrested for trying to stage a protest in the capital city of Manama during the country's Formula One Grand Prix.

    She was sentenced last week to one month in jail and was fined 200 dinars (USD 530) on a separate charge related to insulting a government employee.

Jishi said Zainab is facing other charges related to trying to organize demonstrations in Manama and the next court hearing is set for June 24.

Zainab is the daughter of prominent Bahraini opposition activist Abdulhadi al-Khawaja.

The kingdom has been the scene of anti-regime demonstrations since February 2011.

5/28/2012

Blaze at Qatar shopping centre kills 19

BBCNEWS

A fire at a shopping centre in the Qatari capital Doha has killed at least 19 people, local officials have said.

The interior ministry said 13 of the victims at the Villaggio centre were children. Four were Spanish nationals, diplomatic sources say.
The cause of the fire is being investigated.
The Villaggio mall, which opened in 2006, is one of the most popular shopping and recreational complexes in the small Gulf state.
Its facilities include a cinema, a hotel and a Venice-styled theme park.
The blaze started at about 11:30 local time (08:00 GMT) on Monday, Qatari Interior Minister Abdullah bin Nasser al-Thani was quoted as saying by the AFP news agency.
It is believed to have started at a nursery, and firefighters reportedly had to break through the roof to get to trapped children.

map 
 
Eyewitnesses spoke of thick black smoke billowing from the centre.
Police were sent to the scene to evacuate the complex, while medics were treating the injured.
"There don't seem to have been any fire alarms or sprinklers at the mall," a relative of one of the victims told Reuters.
The fire was later extinguished, Mr Thani said.
Four teachers and two civil defence officials were among the victims, the interior ministry said.
Reports say that the evacuation was very chaotic and there is some criticism of the way the incident was handled by the emergency services.

Kenya PM Says Nairobi Blast Was Terrorist Act

VOA

Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga says a blast in central Nairobi on Monday was an act of terrorism, contradicting police who blamed the explosion on an electrical fault.
Speaking at the blast site a few hours the explosion occurred, Mr. Odinga said Kenya is “under threat” but will “not be cowed.”
The explosion Monday injured at least 27 people and caused significant damage to a building in a Nairobi business district.
Police Commissioner Matthew Iteere told reporters the blast was probably caused by an electrical malfunction.
However, the assistant minister for internal security, Orwa Ojode, said police are investigating the possibility of a grenade attack.
Kenya has been hit by a string of grenade attacks that authorities blame on the Somali militant group al-Shabab and its sympathizers.
Kenya sent troops into Somalia last October to fight al-Shabab, which it blamed for a series of cross-border kidnappings.

Bahrain activist Al-Khawaja to end hunger strike - lawyer


BBCNEWS

Bahraini human rights activist Abdulhadi al-Khawaja is to end his 110-day hunger strike on Monday evening, his lawyer says.

Mohammed al-Jishi made the announcement on the micro-blogging website, Twitter.
Mr Khawaja, a Shia Muslim, is an outspoken critic of Bahrain's ruling Sunni royal family and he has been convicted of trying to depose them.
Mr Khawaja's decision follows the release on bail of another detained Bahraini activist, Nabeel Rajab.
Mr Rajab was arrested on 5 May at Manama airport on his return from the Lebanese capital, Beirut.
He is charged with using social networking sites to incite illegal rallies and defame Bahrain's security forces.
Protest 'success'
Mr Khawaja, 51, began fasting as a protest against his imprisonment after being sentenced by a military court in June 2011.
Lawyer Mr Jishi told Reuters news agency: "The strike has generally achieved its results to shed light on the case of the detainees in Bahrain."
Mr Khawaja and 20 others were convicted of plotting to overthrow the state by the National Safety Court, a military tribunal. Seven of them, including Mr Khawaja, were sentenced to life.
But in April, Bahrain's highest court, the Court of Cassation, threw out their convictions and ordered a retrial, although they were not released.
At a court appearance last week Mr Khawaja was in a wheelchair.
Mr Rajab, who has 140,000 Twitter followers, is a vocal critic of Bahrain's ruler, King Hamad al-Khalifa.
Lawyer Mr Jishi, who also represents Mr Rajab, told AFP news agency that his client had been ordered to pay 300 Bahraini dinars ($796; £500) and still faces a travel ban.
Mr Rajab, a Shia Muslim and head of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, last appeared in court on 16 May.
Since February 2011, Bahrain's government and Sunni ruling royal family have faced fierce opposition from mainly Shia activists.
Bahrain's monarchy has made concessions, but not enough to satisfy protesters. Bahraini security forces have repeatedly clashed with protesters.

5/23/2012

BBCNEWS

The head of the UN nuclear watchdog has said talks with Iran's top nuclear negotiator have been "positive", according to Iranian state TV.

Yukiya Amano, of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), met Iran's nuclear energy head Saeed Jalili.
"We held expanded and intensive negotiations in a good atmosphere," Mr Amano is quoted as saying.
His visit to Tehran came ahead of a meeting in Baghdad between six world powers and Iran on Wednesday.
Iran denies claims by Western nations that it is developing a nuclear weapon.
It has refused to provide the IAEA access to relevant sites, officials and documents for more than four years.

'Positive impact'
A website for one of Iran's state news channels quoted Mr Amano as saying: "Definitely, the progress of talks will have a positive impact on negotiations between Iran and P5+1."
UK, China, France, Russia, the United States and Germany - the so-called P5 + 1 - are due to take part in the Baghdad talks.
"I will not go into details but the agency has some viewpoints and Iran has its own specific viewpoints," he added.
Western diplomats quoted by Reuters news agency said Mr Amano would only visit Tehran if he believed a framework agreement to grant inspectors greater access was close.
By promising co-operation with the IAEA, Iran might be looking for leverage ahead of Wednesday's talks, they say.
Mr Jalili also sounded a positive note after the meeting.
"We had very good talks with Amano and, God willing, we will have good cooperation in the future," according to reports by Iranian state television.

Suspicions
However, previous negotiations have ended in failure. In February, Iran refused the IAEA's request to let inspectors visit its military site at Parchin, south of Tehran, which is believed to be involved in the country's nuclear programme.
Western powers are concerned that Iran is using its civilian nuclear programme to mask efforts to obtain nuclear weapons.
The UN, US, European Union, Canada, Japan and Australia are among those who have imposed sanctions on Iran to try to persuade the country to co-operate with the IAEA.
Those measures target areas such as the sale of oil, arms deals, financial transactions and trade in technology that could be used for uranium enrichment.

Iran Gets New Offer From Powers at Atomic Talks in Iraq

BLOOMBERG

Iraq, invaded and occupied in 2003 over concern about weapons of mass destruction, hosted world powers who today made a revised proposal intended to avert a potential war over atomic work by its eastern neighbor Iran.
Chinese, French, German, Russian, British and U.S. negotiators -- the so-called P5+1 group -- presented the offer today before adjourning, said Michael Mann, the spokesman for European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton. The P5+1 wants Iran to reduce production of 20 percent-enriched uranium in exchange for the offer, he said, without providing specifics.
“We are getting into the substance of the matter,” Mann, who joined negotiators meeting inside a villa in Baghdad’s heavily guarded Green Zone, told journalists. “We hope the Iranians will respond positively. We’re going to make solid progress if things go well.”
While Iran, target of an investigation by the United Nations International Atomic Energy Agency since 2003, denies it is seeking to make nuclear weapons, the Islamic Republic has refused to cooperate with inspectors and is under multiple international sanctions. Israel has warned that time to reach an agreement over Iran’s nuclear work isn’t unlimited and hasn’t ruled out military strikes if diplomacy fails.

‘Good News’ Expected

Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said he expects the negotiations to “bring good news.”
“We are optimistic and hope the other side also wants to make the Baghdad summit a success,” he told reporters in Tehran today before the meeting, adding that imposing new sanctions on his country would be a “huge and strategic mistake.”
Negotiators may meet again tomorrow in Baghdad depending on how the Iranians react to the proposal, Mann said. Diplomats will reconvene for more meetings tonight, state-run Press TV reported, without saying where it got the information.
The sides remain far from an accord, according to Taleb Mahdi, an Iranian delegate who denied that the P5+1 had offered anything new. Iran presented its own step-by-step proposal to the P5+1 group that includes nuclear and non-nuclear issues, the state-run Islamic Republic News Agency reported, without citing anybody.
“We did not receive any new proposal,” Mahdi told reporters in Arabic after the sides adjourned. “Until now there is no indication of anything optimistic or of positive progress.”
The U.S. and the EU have adopted dozens of financial, trade, insurance and energy-related sanctions since November to squeeze Iran’s economy and force its leaders to abandon any illicit aspects of their nuclear program.

Sanctions to Stay

Sanctions won’t be lifted as a result of the Baghdad meeting, Mann said. While the P5+1 group is “hopeful” that Iran will respond positively to the offer, it doesn’t expect an outcome to this round of negotiations, he said.
The nations may offer Iran nuclear-safety assistance, research-reactor fuel, airplane parts and help fighting drug smugglers in return for concessions, according to U.S. and European officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity before the talks began.
IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano announced yesterday that the agency had broken a five-year stalemate with Iran over wider inspector access to nuclear sites, including the Parchin military complex, where the Persian Gulf country may have worked on the trigger for an atomic bomb. The deal sent world oil prices lower.

Oil Drops

Crude oil for July delivery fell 55 cents, or 0.6 percent, to $91.30 a barrel at 9:39 a.m. on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Futures touched $90.71, the lowest intraday level since Nov. 1. Front-month futures are down 7.6 percent this year.
Talks between Iran and world powers will continue after the Baghdad meeting, a senior Iranian lawmaker said yesterday, according to state-run news channel Al-Alam.
“We need to see this path as a long one,” Alaeddin Boroujerdi, head of parliament’s national security and foreign policy committee, said in an interview. “Baghdad won’t be the last stop.” Iran may revive an offer to swap part of its enriched-uranium stockpile for atomic fuel needed to make medical isotopes, he said.
Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak yesterday responded with skepticism to reports about the IAEA agreement, saying Iran was trying to create the illusion of progress to relieve the sanctions against it.

‘Clear Bar’

“It appears that the Iranians are trying to reach a ‘technical agreement’ which will create the impression of progress in the talks,” Barak said in an e-mailed statement. “Israel believes that Iran should be set a clear bar so there is no window or crack which the Iranians can creep through to advance their military nuclear program.”
Baghdad, named the worst city in the world in the most recent Mercer life-quality rankings, was occupied in the 2003 invasion that ousted Saddam Hussein. Then U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell told the UN that evidence indicated Iraq was working on a nuclear weapon, though data collected after the U.S. invasion showed the allegations were false.
Iran, which requested that today’s meeting take place in Baghdad, should press for bilateral talks with the U.S. to discuss regional security, Seyed Hossein Mousavian, the former spokesman for Iran’s nuclear negotiating team, said in an interview earlier this month.
Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari told Iran’s state-run Fars news yesterday that “no effort has been made to set up a meeting between Iran and U.S. in Baghdad, but the matter will be looked into.”

To contact the reporters on this story: Jonathan Tirone in Vienna at jtirone@bloomberg.net; Nayla Razzouk in Baghdad at nrazzouk2@bloomberg.net

Bahrain activist Abdulhadi al-Khawaja attends retrial

BBCNEWS

The leading Bahraini human rights and political activist, Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, has appeared in court in the capital, Manama, for his retrial.

Mr Khawaja, who began a hunger strike in February in protest at the prison sentence he was given by a military court in June, was in a wheelchair.
The AFP news agency said he looked weak but moved his chair without assistance.
Mr Khawaja and 20 others are accused of plotting to overthrow the state. Seven of them are being tried in absentia.
The defendants were convicted by the National Safety Court, a military tribunal. Seven of them, including Mr Khawaja, were sentenced to life.
But in April, Bahrain's highest court, the Court of Cassation, threw out their convictions and ordered a retrial, although they were not released.
'Psychological torture'
The retrial began at a civilian court in Manama on 8 May, but it was adjourned until Tuesday because Mr Khawaja and Abdullah al-Mahroos, a prominent Shia religious figure and critic of the Sunni-dominated government, were too ill to attend.
On Tuesday, Mr Khawaja was taken from his room at the Bahrain Defence Force Hospital to the court in a wheelchair by a doctor and two nurses, his wife Khadija al-Mousawi wrote on Twitter.
An AFP correspondent said Mr Khawaja looked frail and weak, but moved his chair forward without medical assistance.
"The continuation of my arrest is a crime," Mr Khawaja told the court, according to AFP. "Stop this sham trial.
"There is no legal excuse for my continued detention.
"For more than 100 days I have been on hunger strike and am ready to sacrifice my life to demand freedom," he said, adding he had been "force-fed" in prison.
Mrs Mousawi said her husband had also told the court about the torture he was subjected to after being detained in April 2011, a month after the authorities violently suppressed a mass pro-democracy demonstration at the now-demolished Pearl Roundabout.
"There was a moment of silence when he spoke about the psychological torture when they lied to him about arresting [their daughter] Zainab... torturing, raping Zainab and moving her to a jail in Saudi Arabia. This must have been harder than the torture itself," she wrote.

Zainab al-Khawaja at a protest in Manama (18 April 2012) 
Zainab al-Khawaja was arrested in April for allegedly disrupting the traffic and insulting a police officer
Mrs Mousawi said her husband's trial was later adjourned until 29 May.
In a separate development, another court adjourned until 27 May a hearing in the case of Zainab al-Khawaja, who was arrested a month ago after she staged a lone protest on a motorway against the imprisonment of her father during the Formula 1 Grand Prix.
Ms Khawaja has been charged with disrupting the traffic and insulting a police officer.
At least 60 people are said to have been killed since protests erupted in February 2011, demanding more democracy and an end to discrimination against the majority Shia Muslim community by the Sunni royal family.
King Hamad has tried to address some of the protesters' demands by announcing constitutional reforms intended to lead to greater accountability.
But the opposition, as well as human rights groups, say the promises are empty and that the crackdown on dissent is continuing.
The UN Human Rights Council on Monday urged Bahrain to release all political prisoners, including Mr Khawaja and Nabeel Rajab, who is being held on charges of inciting protests by using social networking websites.

Egyptians Vote for First Post-Mubarak Leader in Election


Millions of Egyptians headed to the polls today in the first presidential election since Hosni Mubarak’s ouster, a landmark race pitting rival Islamists against secularists after more than 15 months of turmoil.
Polls opened at 8 a.m., with lines forming long before at voting stations across the capital. The election has been billed as the freest and fairest in Egypt’s history, with the state-run Al-Akhbar newspaper’s banner headline reading: “Your Vote=Egypt’s Future.” In a country where Mubarak ran largely unopposed for three decades, the roughly 50 million eligible Egyptian voters have an unprecedented choice between 13 candidates.

Supporters of last year’s revolt and Mubarak-era ministers are competing in the election, which follows more than a year of instability and violence between security forces and protestors demanding an end to military rule. The fallout from the unrest created Egypt’s worst economic slowdown in at least a decade, prompting the government to apply for a $3.2 billion International Monetary Fund loan that has yet to materialize.
In the upscale district of Heliopolis, where Mubarak used to live, 18-year-old Saif Awad said that in a contest between religiously motivated candidates and those with ties to Mubarak- era governments, he favors the latter. “I don’t want to be ruled by Islamists, but I can live with those affiliated with the past regime,” he said. “They now know that there are red lines, and that people will revolt and protest if they cross them.”

Close Race

No clear favorite has emerged in opinion polls, raising the likelihood that after the first round ends tomorrow the two leading candidates will compete in run-offs on June 16 and 17, with final results to follow on June 21. The army council that took power after Mubarak’s fall has vowed to hand over power by the end of June.
A weekly survey published in the state-run Al-Ahram newspaper has put former Arab League chief Amre Moussa, who also served as foreign minister under Mubarak, in first place. Other polls have given the top spot to moderate Islamist and former Muslim Brotherhood member Abdel-Moneim Aboul-Fotouh and to Ahmed Shafik, who served as Mubarak’s last premier. Another leading contender is Mohamed Mursi, the Muslim Brotherhood’s candidate.
Egyptian telecommunication mogul Naguib Sawiris, a member of the Coptic Christian community that makes up an estimated 10 percent of the population, said he voted for Moussa.

Voters Divided

“The Christians are divided between Moussa and Shafik,” Sawiris said in a telephone interview.
The Brotherhood and many of the youths who led the anti- Mubarak uprising accuse Moussa and Shafik of seeking to revive the former regime. The two present their bids as a bulwark against political domination by Islamists and tout their years of experience. Moussa has said he would immediately use his international contacts to secure foreign funding for Egypt.
More than a year of political unrest has scared off investors. Foreign holdings of Egyptian treasury bills plunged 97 percent in the 14 months through February, to 1.64 billion Egyptian pounds ($272 million), according to central bank data.
The vote may not spell an end to political tensions, said Ashraf el-Sherif, adjunct lecturer in political science at the American University in Cairo.

Voting Choices

“If the winner is a candidate who believes in change, then he will run into the powers that have been dominating the system and the state apparatuses,” el-Sherif said. “If he wants to reproduce the old system then we’ll be back to square one and popular anger will continue.”
For Azza Kamel, 29, the choice boiled down to either Aboul- Fotouh or Mursi. In the end, Mursi was the natural choice, she said as she sat in a minibus featuring a portrait of the Brotherhood candidate on the back.
“We can’t afford divisions at such a time,” said Kamel, who was wearing the niqab, or Islamic face-veil. “We need to rally behind the one with the largest support base.”
Nearby, some Mursi supporters had set up a desk and laptops to help voters find out where they could cast their ballots. Ahmed Salem, one of the volunteers, said they were trying to help, not influence the vote.
The Brotherhood’s well-oiled campaign machine has worried secularists already concerned by the Islamist domination of parliament and what they see as a further attempt to monopolize power in the Arab world’s most populous nation.

Election Monitors

“Vote rigging is a thing of the past,” Mursi told reporters in comments aired on Al-Arabiya satellite channel. “I hope I can live up to your expectations, the expectations of Egyptians at home and abroad to establish a state with freedom, democracy, constitution and stability.”
Information Minister Ahmed Anis told reporters he expected turnout of between 60 to 75 percent. It hasn’t yet reached those levels, with between 20 and 40 percent of registered voters casting ballots in some provinces, Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim said at the same news conference. Neither minister provided details.
The election has refocused the spotlight on Egypt, this time for something other than the violence that marked the 18- day uprising last year and left around 850 dead. Hundreds of monitors from scores of groups, including the Atlanta, Georgia- based Carter Center, were observing the vote.

Campaign Complaints

A coalition of Egyptian monitors noted that representatives of several candidates were campaigning near polling stations across the country, in an apparent violation of electoral laws, according to a statement posted on the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights’ website.
The election commission has referred complaints against Mursi, Aboul-Fotouh and Shafik to the public prosecutor on grounds of illegal campaigning, commission head Farouk Sultan told reporters.
The race comes a little over a week before a court will decide the fate of Mubarak in a case that has divided Egyptians. On streets once dominated by the face of the former president, the main candidates now peer down from banners strung from power poles and tree trunks and posters tacked to walls.
Heavy security ringed the thousands of polling stations around the country, with the military saying it had deployed 150,000 troops to ensure the vote went smoothly amid fears of outbreaks of violence that have contributed to the overall security concerns weighing on many voters.

‘Feel Safe’

In Heliopolis, Laila Naguib, 65, recalled how she had been mugged during broad daylight in December. The incident was representative to her of the decaying security which Egyptians have complained about in the past year.
Standing a few paces away from the polling station, she debated whether to vote for Moussa, Nasserist candidate Hamdeen Sabahi or Shafik. “I’m a Christian, and I need to feel safe,” she said. “This is my country. Where am I supposed to go?”
In Cairo’s sprawling Shoubra neighborhood, 51-year-old technician Mustafa Abdullah stood in line, waiting to cast his vote for Shafik. In the parliamentary elections months earlier, he had voted for the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party, which went on to win nearly half of the seats in the legislature’s lower hose.
“I’m going to steer clear of Islamists this time,” Abdullah said, adding that he had hoped they would help the country. “Instead, they ignored all the problems that mattered, and focused on achieving personal gains.”
To contact the reporter on this story: Mariam Fam in Cairo at mfam1@bloomberg.net. Tarek El-Tablawy in Cairo at teltablawy@bloomberg.net

5/21/2012

Kuwaiti pleads not guilty at Twitter blasphemy trial

bbcnews

A Kuwaiti man has pleaded not guilty to charges that he insulted the Prophet Muhammad and the rulers of Saudi Arabia and Bahrain in messages on Twitter.

Hamad al-Naqi, a Shia Muslim, said his Twitter account had been hacked and that he had not written the messages.
The judge denied Mr Naqi's request for bail after two months in detention and adjourned his trial until next week.
Mr Naqi faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted, but Sunni activists have said he should be sentenced to death.
"He will be an example for anyone who thinks he can do such a thing," Duwaim al-Muwazri, a civil plaintiff who is arguing the case against Mr Naqi, told the Reuters news agency.

'Opinion crime'
An amended law endorsed by the Kuwaiti parliament this month stipulates capital punishment for any Muslim who, through any form of expression, insults God, his prophets, messengers, the Prophet Muhammad's wives or the Koran, unless the defendant publicly repents.
If the defendant repents, a sentence of at least five years' imprisonment will be imposed. Repeat offenders will receive the death sentence.
Mr Naqi's lawyer, Khaled al-Shatti, said the death penalty could not be applied in this case because the alleged crime had taken place before the change in legislation.
The amendment has also not yet been signed by the Emir of Kuwait, Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmed Al Sabah, he added. If the emir does not approve it, the bill will be returned to parliament where it will become law if two-thirds of MPs vote for it again.
Mr Shatti also criticised the decision not to release his client on bail.
"Even if we were to imagine hypothetically that he did say something, this would be an 'opinion crime', not a crime threatening state security," he said.
Last week, an appeals court reportedly upheld a 10-year prison sentence for a Twitter user found guilty of insulting the emir and calling for the overthrow of the government.
About a third of Kuwait's 1.1 million citizens are Shia and the emirate's Sunni-led government is concerned they may launch protests demanding more democracy and an end to discrimination like those in majority-Shia Bahrain and in Saudi Arabia's predominantly Shia Eastern Province.

Prosecutor refutes torture death report, insists victim drowned

BBCNEWS

Bahrain has confirmed the death by drowning of a 23-year-old Bahraini national in January, refuting a report that he had been tortured to death

Samira Rajab: The minister of many words

GULFNEWS

It's been three weeks since Samira Rajab, a straight-talking former journalist and Bahraini member of parliament, was appointed to reform media laws in the troubled kingdom. When it comes to laying blame for 16 months of political violence, she's under no illusions who is to blame — and why. She talks exclusively to Gulf News

Gulf union summit to be held before December: Media advisor

 
The Gulf union has been approved and it will be a reality very soon, says media advisor to Bahrain king
  • By Habib Toumi, Bureau Chief
 
Manama: The extraordinary summit of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries to sign the transition to the Gulf union will be held ahead of an annual meeting in December in Manama, a senior Bahraini official has said.
"The Gulf union has been approved and it will be a reality very soon," Nabeel Al Hamer, media advisor to King Hamad Bin Eisa Al Khalifa, said on his Twitter account.

Bahrain activist gets bail but still detained

BBCNEWS
 
Jailed Nabeel Rajab, head of Bahrain human rights group, granted $800 bail but remains jailed on a second charge.

The head of Bahrain Centre for Human Rights is to remain in jail, despite being granted bail by a Bahrain court in Manama.
Nabeel Rajab, arrested earlier this month on his on arrival at Manama airport from Lebanon, was granted bail on Sunday in the case of "insulting an official authority".
His charges centered on four messages posted on the social media site Twitter that suggested the interior ministry had not carried out proper investigations into civilian deaths.
"The judge agreed to the request to free him on $800 bail with a travel ban, but he has not been released because he is being detained on another charge," said Mohamed al-Jishi, Rajab's lawyer.


The second charge against Rajab, of organising illegal demonstrations, could land the activist in jail for two years, al-Jishi said last week.
Witnesses and the prosecution said that the new hearing for Rajab, will convene on Tuesday, the AFP news agency reported.
Rajab led many protests that were part of the ongoing uprising led by the Shia Muslim majority against the Sunni ruling al-Khalifa dynasty that rules the island.
Bahrain has rejected calls for an elected government and large-scale protests which began in February 2011 after successful revolts in Egypt and Tunisia, continue weekly in Shia villages, often resulting in clashes with police.
Authorities have vowed to "get tougher" on security. Activists have said that the government wants to find any way of keeping Rajab off the streets.

'Deplorable' rights record
New York-based advocacy group Human Rights Watch (HRW) has called for the United Nations to scrutinise what it called Bahrain's "deplorable" rights record when the UN Human Rights Council conducts its Universal Periodic Review of the country on Monday.


 

"The international community should push Bahrain to adopt specific measures to ensure free expression and peaceful assembly, end torture, free political prisoners, and establish credible accountability mechanisms for continuing abuses," HRW said in a statement on Sunday.
Abdulhadi Abdulla Alkhawaja, another human rights activist and seven other activists were sentenced to life in prison by a military court last year for participating in the protests. Alkhawaja has been on a hunger strike for more than 100 days.
Thirteen men jailed for leading last year's protests remain in jail after a military court convicted them last year, despite revelations, in a report by a human rights commission in November, of systematic use of torture to extract confessions.
Official figures show 35 people had died by the time a period of martial law ended in June but opposition activists say the number has risen to 81 as police try to limit protests.
The government rejects the figure, saying many fatalities were due to tear gas exposure by people with prior health conditions.
Activists say five people have died in suspicious circumstances this year, including a 23-year-old man who prosecutors say drowned. An independent autopsy later provided information that suggested he was likely tortured with electricity before drowning.

5/19/2012

Anti-Royal protesters in London

Anti-Royal protesters hold a printed messages outside Buckingham Palace in central London on May 18, 2012 to demonstrate against the evening banquet clelebrating Britain's Queen Elizabeth II diamond jubilee where many heads of state are invited. The protest was highlighting the poor human rights records of some of the countries that attended, including Abu Dhabi, Bahrain, Brunei, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Swaziland.

Obama unveils US food security plan for Africa

Diamond Jubilee: World royals gather in UK for Queen

BBCNEWS

Kings and queens from around the world have gathered in Britain to mark the Queen's Diamond Jubilee.
Twelve UK royals joined the Queen to welcome the sovereigns of 26 countries for a luncheon at Windsor Castle.
Human rights campaigners have condemned the inclusion of Bahrain's King Hamad al-Khalifa but the Palace said the Foreign Office approved his invitation.
Protesters gathered at Buckingham Palace, where Prince Charles is hosting a dinner for some of the royals.
King Hamad is not at the banquet.
Another invitation proving to be controversial is that of King Mswati III of Swaziland, who is accused of living a lavish lifestyle while his people go hungry.
Demonstrators at Buckingham Palace chanted and held banners reading: "Shame on you Liz Windsor," and "Democracy now for Swaziland".
"Inviting bloodstained despots brings shame to our monarchy and tarnishes the Diamond Jubilee celebrations," he said.
Mohammed Sadiq, spokesperson for Justice for Bahrain, told the BBC he fully supported the Jubilee, but did not understand what had changed in Bahrain to prompt the Queen to invite King Hamad.
Graham Smith, chief executive of Republic, said the group was "standing in solidarity" with protesters from Bahrain and Swaziland.
Campaigner Peter Tatchell criticised the Queen for "wining and dining dictators who stand accused of very serious human rights abuse".
The Foreign Office earlier said it was having "a full and frank discussion on a range of issues" with Bahrain's government.
The world figures arrived at Windsor Castle in a convoy of black chauffeur-driven cars in time for the start of the lunch at 12:30 BST amid tight security.
Also joining the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh for the lunch were Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, Prince Harry, the Duke of York, Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie and the Earl and Countess of Wessex.
There was a group photograph before the royals sat down to lunch at round tables seating 12. Each group had least one sovereign, their spouse, a member of the British royal family and a member of the royal household.
A British-inspired menu was prepared using many ingredients sourced locally.
To start, the royals were given a tartlet of poached egg with English asparagus.
This was followed by a main course of new season Windsor Lamb with braised potatoes, artichokes, peas, carrots, broad beans, cabbage, and a tomato and basil salad.
Kent strawberries, vanilla Charlotte, dessert fruit and cheese concluded the meal.
The menu for Prince Charles's banquet includes twice-baked cheese souffle with baby leaf spinach, line-caught sea bass with coastal samphire and rhubarb Eton mess.
Mr Tatchell said inviting the kings of Bahrain and Swaziland was "a shocking misjudgement" that showed the Queen was "out of touch with the humanitarian values of most British people".

In April 2011, Bahrain's Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa pulled out of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge's wedding amid controversy over human rights.
Mr Sadiq said: "How would the British feel if the Queen had invited Saddam Hussein or Colonel Gaddafi to such an occasion?"
Last month, Bahrain Grand Prix organisers were urged to cancel the race amid public unrest in the country and accusations of human rights abuses.
A Foreign Office spokesman said Britain had "consistently encouraged the Bahraini government to take further urgent steps to implement in full the recommendations of the Independent Commission of Inquiry as His Majesty the King has committed to doing.
"This includes bringing to account those individuals responsible for human rights abuses."

Gibraltar tensions
On Wednesday, meanwhile, a group of UK-based Swazis protested outside the Savoy hotel, in London, where King Mswati - who is widely accused of profligate spending - is thought to be staying, with a delegation of 30 officials.
King Mswati is rated by Forbes magazine as the world's 15th richest monarch with a personal fortune of $100m (£62m) - while many of his 1.2 million subjects live in poverty.
Democracy campaigners also want Africa's last absolute monarch to allow political parties and elections.
Saudi and Kuwaiti royals are also attending the banquet.
Amnesty international has recently highlighted repression in Saudi Arabia, as the authorities there crack down on protesters and reformists.
And Human Rights Watch has criticised Kuwait for the suspension of a daily newspaper and the conviction of its editor for incitement.
Meanwhile, Queen Sofia of Spain declined to attend because of a dispute over fishing rights off Gibraltar, a UK territory that Spain also claims.

Thousands of Shia Muslims protest over Gulf union plans

bbcnews

Thousands of mainly Shia Bahrainis have protested outside the capital against a plan to create a union of Gulf Arab countries.

In Manama, the demonstration stretched for some three miles (5km), blocking a motorway.
The Saudi king's proposal to unite the six members of the Gulf Co-Operation Council was discussed this week.
The six members are Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and United Arab Emirates.
There were also protests against the move in Dubai and Iran, where Bahrain's ambassador was rebuked.
The planned union between Bahrain and Saudi Arabia - the first part of a broader union of the Gulf's six Arab monarchies - has triggered discord between Shia-dominated Iran and the Sunni rulers of Shia-majority Bahrain.

'Not for sale'
Iran has called the proposal "the American plan to annex Bahrain to Saudi Arabia".
In Tehran, demonstrators took to the streets, many brandishing the Bahraini flag.
The Iranian authorities also reportedly summoned Bahrain's ambassador after the country's Foreign Minister Sheikh Khaled warned Iran to stop meddling in its internal affairs.
Reports quoting an Iranian foreign ministry official said that Iran "rejects comments made by the Bahraini foreign minister and hopes that the Bahraini government finds a suitable solution towards the developments there".
Meanwhile, in Dubai, thousands protested, chanting: "No to union. Bahrain is not for sale!" as they marched along a main road linking a number of Shia villages around the capital.
After holding a meeting on the proposal earlier during the week, Gulf leaders have decided to delay any decision on the unity plans.
Dozens of people, mainly Shia, have been killed in pro-democracy protests in Bahrain, since February 2011.
Tensions between Iran and Bahrain were further stoked when a Saudi-led Gulf force entered the country in March 2011 to bolster the kingdom's security forces and crushed the uprising.

5/18/2012

Iranian Flagrant Interference Condemned



Manama-May-16(BNA)The Arab Parliamentary Union today strongly condemned the Iranian interference in Bahrain’s internal affairs. In a statement issued today, it slammed the Iranian interference as being “flagrant, unacceptable, hostile and contravening the international law and norms.

Parliament Chairman Khalifa bin Ahmed Al-Dhahrani received a copy of the APU statement, which voiced deep concerns over the statements made by the Iranian Shura Council president and members, flagrantly interfering in the affairs of Bahrain and the GCC. The APU denounced the Iranian hostile stances as being in breach of the international law and norms as well as the principle of good neighbourliness.


“The recurrent flagrant Iranian statements and hostile stances do not serve the cause of security and stability in the regional”, The APU statement said, warning against the detrimental impact of such policies on the Arab-Iranian relations.


The pan-Arab union stressed its support for the initiatives and decisions undertaken by the Kingdom of Bahrain and all the GCC member states to defend their interests, security and stability.


The APU threw its weight behind Bahrain, backing the key decisions it had taken to promote its system, citing particularly the constitutional amendments – which would further anchor democracy and human rights.
The APU statement reaffirmed backing for the GCC leaders’ decisions to bolster cooperation towards establishing the union.


AHN

US ready to attack Iran, says envoy to Israel

BBCNEWS

The US has plans in place to attack Iran if other measures fail to stop it developing nuclear weapons, Washington's envoy to Israel says.

Dan Shapiro said the US hoped diplomacy and sanctions would persuade Iran to alter its nuclear programme, but a military option was "ready".
US President Obama has previously said military action has not been ruled out.
The US and its allies say Iran is developing a nuclear bomb, an accusation Tehran denies.
Talks between Iran and six world powers are due to resume in Baghdad on 23 May.
'The right thing'
Mr Shapiro made his comments to the Israel Bar Association on Tuesday, a recording of which was later obtained by the Associated Press news agency.
"It would be preferable to resolve this diplomatically through the use of pressure than to use military force," Mr Shapiro said.
"But that doesn't mean that option is not fully available. Not just available, but it's ready. The necessary planning has been done to ensure that it's ready."
Pentagon spokesman George Little on Thursday stressed that Washington's policy on the issue "has not changed at all".
"The ambassador's comments are perfectly in line with what we have been saying for a while with respect to Iran. Our focus in the US is on using diplomatic and economic instruments... to bring pressure to bear on the Iranians to do the right thing," he said.
Mr Little added that Mr Shapiro "was absolutely correct to say that no options are off the table but those options are not something that are being contemplated at this time".
Both Israel and the US have said they consider military force a last resort to stop Iran using its uranium enrichment programme to make a weapon.
Israel, which feels threatened by the prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran, has hinted it could launch a pre-emptive strike.
The BBC's Tehran correspondent, James Reynolds, says Mr Shapiro's remarks go further than previous comments by President Barack Obama that all options are on the table, including military action.
Although aimed at an Israeli audience, the ambassador's comments will not go unnoticed in other capitals, including Tehran, our correspondent says.

Sanctions
Six world powers - the US, Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany - are trying to persuade Tehran to reduce uranium enrichment and open up its nuclear facilities to inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
Fresh talks opened in Istanbul in April - the first for 15 months - and EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton described them as "constructive and useful".
The EU, the US and the UN have all imposed sanctions on Iran over its nuclear programme.
In the past, US officials have stressed the regional instability that would result from any attack on Iran.
In March, Mr Obama said there was "still a window that allows for a diplomatic resolution".
He warned there was "too much loose talk of war" and that it was playing into Iran's hands. However, he stressed that all options remained open.
Tehran insists it is enriching uranium to produce medical isotopes and fuel for nuclear reactors.

BAHRAIN: Autopsy finds torture behind Bahrain drowning


On most mornings Yousef Mowali would leave his home near Bahrain's international airport to go for a stroll. The 23-year-old had been diagnosed with schizophrenia a few years earlier and liked walking, both for exercising and relaxing.
On January 11, Mowali left for his morning walk and never returned.
Police said they found Mowali's body floating in the water on January 13 in the Amwaj area, not far from his family's home in Muharraq. A state doctor reported the cause of death as drowning and ruled out signs of violence.
However, Al Jazeera has exclusively obtained a report from a second autopsy performed by an independent forensic pathologist that concludes Mowali was electrically tortured and unconscious when he drowned.






If true, Mowali's death would be the first of a person in police custody since the government promised reforms, following the release of a report by the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI), which looked at the early months of unrest surrounding last year’s pro-democracy uprising.
The government-sponsored commission found that Bahrain's Interior Ministry and national security agency employed "a systematic practice of physical and psychological mistreatment, which in many cases amounted to torture" during the early months of the crackdown in 2011.
BICI also reported five deaths as a result of police torture. Mowali’s death could be the sixth - and an indication that the mistreatment of prisoners in Bahrain has not stopped, despite the government's promises.

Official statement
Hours after Mowali left for his usual 30-minute stroll, family members said they went to the local police station to report that he was missing. Soon after filing a missing persons report, Ahmad Abbas Mowali, Mowali's father, said they were told he was in the custody of the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) and would be released later that day.
Mowali told Al Jazeera that he and his wife were shocked when they learned Yousef, the oldest of the couple's three children, had been detained. "He never went to demonstrations or to Lulu [Pearl] roundabout," Ahmad Mowali said, referring to the epicentre of the 2011 uprising.
He said his son spent most of his time at home, and was interested in reading and religion, but not politics.In November, Yousef Mowali went with his parents on the annual Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca, and in December, visited family members in Kuwait.
He had been receiving medical care for his condition, the family said, and was showing signs of improvement.
After being told the son was in police custody, Ahmad Mowali said he became increasingly scared for his son as each minute passed. "It happened to a lot of people," he said. "[The police] take them, they kill them and they throw them out."
Two days after Yousef Mowali left home, police say they received a call at 4:52pm that a dead body was in the water in the Amwaj area. His uncle, who had been regularly patrolling the area looking for his nephew since his disappearance, approached the flashing lights of police cars before phoning his brother with the news.
"Then they took him to the mortuary," Ahmad Mowali said. "We went (and) there were a lot of policemen … they didn't allow us to see him."
That evening, the public prosecutor's forensic pathologist conducted an autopsy at Bahrain's Salmaniya hospital. The doctor found that Mowali drowned, listing only a few marks on the body stating: "…there is no evidence of suspicious injury that could have been caused from criminal violence."
The Ministry of Information released a statement that the body was that of Yousef Ahmad Abbas (Mowali is not the family's official surname), also noting that he suffered from "psychological problems" according to the family's initial missing person report.
At the mortuary Ahmad Mowali said the police confirmed that it was his son who had drowned. He insisted on seeing the body and told police that so many security officers were unnecessary if their story was indeed true - that no crime had been committed.

Signs of torture
Ahmad Mowali said the police told him to sign a death certificate stating that his son had drowned. "We refused to sign the death certificate without seeing the body," he said.
The next day, he returned with a lawyer and was allowed to see his son's body. "That's when we saw the body; we saw a lot of signs of torture," he said.
Nawaf al-Sayed, the family's lawyer, told Al Jazeera that, within days, he submitted a request on behalf of the family for a second autopsy from either an independent Bahraini doctor, or one from an international organisation who would be willing to take up the case.
Both proposals were rejected, but al-Sayed said he was given verbal permission by the public prosecutor for the family to examine the body, to answer any questions into Yousef Mowali's death, after they had officially received his corpse.
It was then that the family contacted The International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims (IRCT) and the Denmark-based organisation agreed to send Dr Sebnem Korur Fincanci, a professor in forensic medicine at the University of Istanbul with more than 20 years experience examining torture cases. Dr. Fincanci entered Bahrain as a tourist on January 20.
The next day, the family signed the death certificate and received the body in the early morning. It was taken to a small room in a Muharraq cemetery, where bodies are washed in preparation for Islamic burials.
It's there where Dr Fincanci, dressed as a local woman to avoid the attention of the authorities, conducted the second autopsy of Yousef Mowali.

A second autopsy
Dr Fincanci told Al Jazeera that, before her trip, she researched the types of torture that had been reported in Bahrain, including electrical torture, by studying reports produced by the UN and human rights organisations about the abuse and mistreatment of prisoners.
After examining the body, Dr Fincanci said that wounds on the foot, leg and arm were "obvious" and criticised the first autopsy report for failing to mention them. She also said the state's doctor only dissected some of the organs, which were not in line with the "standard autopsy protocols".
"I immediately realised that the wounds could easily be from electrical torture, so I collected skin samples, thinking about electrical torture, but I wasn't sure, of course, because the body was a bit decomposed," Dr Fincanci said.
Dr Fincanci told Al Jazeera that the circumstances of her autopsy were not ideal. She is used to working with proper equipment in a medical facility aided by assistants. But she said that the tests she did in labs back in Istanbul left no doubt about her findings.
Back in Istanbul, Dr Fincanci consulted other forensic doctors, including Dr Fikri Oztop, a specialist in wounds resulting from electrical torture. The conclusion was that, not only had Yousef Mowali been electrically tortured, but they found, by also examining samples from the lungs, he had been unconscious when he drowned.
Dr Fincanci’s report reads:
In conclusion, Mr Yousif Ahmed Abbas Mohammed's death is attributed primarily to drowning due to the lung changes observed microscopically. Skin changes observed both during external examination and confirmed microscopically on the slides prepared from the samples collected were highly consistent with electrocution, although could not be stated to contribute to his death directly, however supported allegations of torture in custody and could most probably lead to unconsciousness.
Mr Yousif Ahmed Abbas Mohammed had been a competent swimmer, according to the account of the family members, and drowning as the cause of death with findings of electrocution on the foot, leg and arm might support of [sic] being unconscious when he was in the sea, and antemortem nature of abrasion on the left forearm supported this opinion.
The manner of death is therefore ruled as unnatural, and forced drowning.
Dr Fincanci, who has examined cases of electrical torture during military rule in Turkey in the 1980s and more recently from the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq during the US occupation, explained to Al Jazeera that electricity could easily lead to unconsciousness, especially if a high current were to be used.
In a statement to Al Jazeera, the IRCT said: "Key priorities for the IRCT are justice for torture victims and an end to impunity for torturers. Forensic documentation, such as this autopsy, is crucial in proving torture took place and thus in achieving these goals."

Search for truth
On Monday, the family submitted Dr Fincanci's autopsy report to the office of Bahrain's public prosecutor, to be considered as part of the investigation into Yousef Mowali's death. The investigation, which the family demanded through official channels soon after his death, is still in the preliminary stages, where it has yet to be decided whether or not there is enough evidence to take it to court.
Al Jazeera has yet to receive a response to multiple requests for a comment from the Bahrain government and the public prosecutor's office regarding these latest developments in Yousef Mowali's case.
Meanwhile, the family pushes ahead, unrelenting, in their quest for answers.
"We want to reach the truth," Ahmad Mowali said. "What happened? Why did they take my son and how did he die?
"We need justice."

Bahrain and Iran in diplomatic row over union proposal

bbcnews

Bahrain's foreign ministry has summoned Iran's charge d'affaires in Manama to protest at what it described a "gross violation of its sovereignty".

It follows official Iranian calls for demonstrations against a proposed union between Saudi Arabia and Bahrain.
A summit of the Gulf states discussed the proposal on Monday but did not reach any decision on the matter.
Bahrain's Sunni royal family has accused Iran of supporting mass protests by the nation's Shia majority.
The proposed union was presented as a first step in a larger integration between all six Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) members.
It calls for economic, political and military co-ordination and a new decision-making body based in Riyadh, replacing the current GCC Secretariat.
After no agreement was reached, the Saudi foreign minister said the discussions were being postponed.
But the mere suggestion of the union sparked strong criticism from the opposition in Bahrain.
The tiny Gulf island has seen intermittent protests for more than a year demanding political reforms.
The conflict reached a turning point when Saudi Arabia led a military force into Bahrain as part of what was known the "Peninsula Shield Forces" to support the authorities.
The withdrawal of the troops became a constant demand by the opposition.

Iran tensions
Earlier this week, Iranian Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani was quoted by the official Irna news agency as saying: "If Bahrain is supposed to be integrated into another country, it must be Iran and not Saudi Arabia."
The Islamic Propagation Co-ordination Council, which organises state-backed protests, has called for rallies after Friday prayers against what it described as a US plan to annex Bahrain to Saudi Arabia.
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast warned that "any kind of foreign intervention or non-normative plans without respecting people's vote will only deepen the already existing wounds".
Bahrain's foreign ministry condemned the comments, saying they "represent a flagrant interference in the internal affairs of the kingdom, and gross violation of its sovereignty and independence, and they constitute a completely unacceptable conduct".
The GCC was formed in 1981 as the Sunni-dominated monarchies of the Gulf aimed to bolster security after the 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran and to counter the ambitions of then Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

5/14/2012

EU to slap fresh sanctions on Syria

GULFNEWS

Widespread protests against twin bombings
  • AFP
 
Brussels The European Union is expected to agree to new sanctions on Syria, slapping an assets freeze and visa ban on two firms and three people, EU diplomats said Friday.
They said the measures targeting mainly sources of revenue for the regime would be decided at talks between EU foreign ministers next Monday, with Syria still engulfed in deadly violence after a bloody crackdown on opposition protesters was launched 14 months ago.
There was an agreement in principle between ambassadors of the 27-nation bloc on a 15th round of sanctions against the regime of President Bashar Al Assad, they said.
A senior diplomat who asked not to be identified said however that there "is some debate as to whether sanctions send a wrong signal" as UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan seeks to remain even-handed to maintain all-round support for his peace plan.
Tens of thousands of protesters defied Syrian regime gunfire and took to the streets yesterday, as state TV said the army foiled a would-be suicide attack a day after twin bombings in Damascus left scores dead.
 
Eleven killed
Eleven people were killed across the country, in areas including central Hama and southern Daraa, where an 11-year-old child died from sniper fire, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
Troops shot and wounded five protesters in the capital and 20 in the central town of Helfaya, where two civilians also died, while another demonstrator was killed in the northern city of Aleppo, the Britain-based Observatory said.
Aleppo-based activist Mohammad Al Halabi said the protester died from his wounds after regime forces opened fire in the Salah Al Deen neighbourhood.
Halabi said "thousands of people are protesting in spite of gunfire. They are condemning the criminality of yesterday's bombing."

US suspends anti-Islam course at military college

GULFNEWS

Top officer condemns material saying it is against american values
  • AP
 
Washington A course for US military officers has been teaching that America's enemy is Islam in general, not just terrorists, and suggesting that the country might ultimately have to obliterate Islamic holy cities without regard for civilian deaths, following Second World War precedents of the nuclear attack on Hiroshima or the allied firebombing of Dresden.
The Pentagon suspended the course in late April when a student objected to the material. The FBI also changed some agent training last year after discovering that it, too, was critical of Islam. A BBC report said that America's top military officer condemned the course taught at the Joint Forces Staff College in Norfolk, Virginia that advocated a ‘total war' against Muslims.
 
Teacher suspended
The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen Martin Dempsey, said the course was "totally objectionable" and "against our values".
 
"It was just totally objectionable, against our values, and it wasn't academically sound," Gen Dempsey said. He added that he had ordered a full investigation. The officer in charge of the class, Lt Col Matthew Dooley, has been suspended from teaching but has kept his job at the college.
The teaching in the military course was counter to repeated assertions by US officials over the past decade that the US is at war against extremists, not the religion itself.
"We have now come to understand that there is no such thing as ‘moderate Islam'," the instructor, Dooley, said in a presentation last July for the course. "It is therefore time for the US to make our true intentions clear... Islam must change or we will facilitate its self-destruction." He added that international laws protecting civilians in armed conflicts — such as the Geneva Conventions were "no longer relevant".
The college, for professional military members, teaches mid-level officers and government civilians on subjects related to planning and executing war.
The story broke after a copy of the presentation of the course material was posted online by Wired.com's Danger Room blog.